Fortunate Son

By Eli Auslender. Eli is a PhD candidate at the University of York. He lives in York, UK. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

I was born fortunate; fortunate that my city, state, and country were safe, that my parents were educated and employed, that my friends and I could spend as much time as we wanted idling and running and playing and thinking and rebelling without any repercussions besides our parents getting annoyed. I was fortunate that my town was never bombed or my country never plunged into a civil war in my time, or that I was never pursued by a group hell-bent on killing me because I thought or lived differently from how they would want me to. I was fortunate that I could write as freely as I wanted about whatever subject online, no matter how factually inaccurate I was.

If all that changed in an instant, I could not imagine my life.

The unfortunate fact of the modern age is that there are more people displaced from their homes than at any other time in recorded human history. It happens for myriad reasons: a bloody, seemingly unending civil war (Syria and Yemen); repression and imprisoning of those who follow a religion deemed unsuitable for the state by the ruling party (China); removal of an entire ethnicity from a country (Myanmar); cartels and gangs hunting down people who refuse to join or refuse to follow their rules (Central America); indefinitely drafting the youth of the country into the armed services without any option to defer or end enlistment (Eritrea); people living true to their gender, identities, and feelings (Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Mali, Saudi Arabia, et al.); fleeing dangerous situations from which there seems to be no respite (Venezuela, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, et al.) or attempting to stem the tide of climate change before it wipes out all available land (Puerto Rico, Louisiana, California, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Bangladesh, Indonesia, et al.).

Syria has produced the most displaced people of all nations: approximately half its population from before the beginning of the civil war is displaced. either within or outside the country, while approximately half of that number again has left the country entirely. The only way to understand why there was such an exodus is to compare pictures of Damascus and Aleppo from before the civil war started with today, where the former are reminiscent of any major metropolis, and the latter are nothing more than hollowed, bombed-out shells of what used to be buildings.

There have been many in the ‘west’ – in Europe, Australia, and the United States, who have tried to limit refugee admissions to their countries based on a litany of arguments. From the more politically neutral “we cannot afford to care for so many”, to the politically conservative “they are not legitimate refugees”, “they are terrorists pretending to be refugees”, “they are coming here to take advantage of our benefits systems or steal jobs that should go to our nationals”, or “their culture/religion is too different to ours to have them stay long-term”, to the extremely xenophobic “they are invading our countries and going to impose their backward culture/religion/rules to wipe us out”.

However, the truest portrait of a refugee today is that of a young person coming alone because their family was able to scrounge together all the money they had to afford a spot on a flimsy raft to cross a dangerous sea, or leave their homes with whatever possessions they could carry and walk with, or be driven several hundred miles to a place they have never been to, but have heard is safe. Those who survive the journey and are able to avoid being taken into human slavery or trafficking, or forced into prostitution, are many times greeted by hostile border guards who either arrest them or beat them mercilessly for crossing the border. Even those who arrive at supposed ‘safe’ countries can count on harassment and discrimination from police forces.

Suppose that someone is able to avoid most of that, or survive it, and arrive at a safe country by themselves. A country where they are completely unfamiliar, where the language is nothing close to what they speak, where the people look different and eat different food and look at that person as if they had expletives written on their foreheads. They likely know no one, can speak to hardly anyone, and must face the ire of those who think they are the invaders. They are told that they must start learning the national language and get a job immediately if they want to have any prospect to stay and live.

But, in the larger context, they are safe from the constant demolition of their home towns, the threat of being conscripted into the national army or a rebel army or jailed or killed for refusing to abide, the threat of starvation, etc.

All they have to contend with in their new home is people who refuse to understand that being a refugee and fleeing one’s home is a matter of circumstance and luck. Any irate national leader in Hungary or Poland or Italy or Spain or the United Kingdom or the United States could suddenly decide to impose martial law on a city and incite a rebellion that could spread into a national conflict. All because they were reticent to concede power. And then, those who thought refugees were coming to invade and destroy their cultural heritage would find themselves invading other places, threatening to impose their cultural hegemony on a place where they would find they had no power with which to impose anything besides an application for asylum.

Because no one willingly chooses to abandon one’s home unless circumstances dictate that the open road is safer. That should be the most understandable and relatable sentiment accessible to anyone, from any cultural or political background.

3 comments on “Fortunate Son

  1. FJ on

    A very touching and inspiring piece of work. Wanted to read more!! Love how the writer is incorporating different parts around the world related to several issues we are facing today.

  2. Martin Clarkson on

    This piece touched me and made me seriously reconsider who fortunate I am about my upbringing. I am curious what are Mr Auslender’s thoughts about the way the refugee ‘caravan’ is perceived in the US


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